Her new body wasn’t ideal, Lucretia reflected was she was led down the labyrinthine halls below Taft’s Assembly of Minister’s. The capital of the Spriggit empire might be described in many ways, but simple was not one of them.
She was currently five and was following quietly behind one of the Under-ministers, the almost faceless people that performed the bureaucratic tasks of the Assembly. Unlike the ministers themselves, they were not elected and therefore spent quite a long time here. Although they had no explicit powers, many a Minister had discovered how crippling it was to be on the wrong side of the under-Ministry.
“Through here,” The man’s gruff voice sounded very small in the dark. The only light came from the torch he carried, and the light seemed very muffled in the long stone halls. He gestured impatiently to the door, and Lucretia walked through.
Inside, there was a warm fire and a long table at which three people sat. Their chairs were ornate, and honestly, the entire room looked much more respectable than the hallway that led here would indicate. But of course…
Lucretia glanced at the far wall, at the mahogany door. There was another way here. But that door was too good for one such as here.
Even with only a fraction of the monster race’s genes in her body, it was too much in the eyes of the conservative faction of the ministry.
Although this body’s father, Halt, was a Spriggit servant, her mother Massy had the blood of Monsters in her. In visible ways too. Massy had curving horns from her head and powerful leathery wings that she had to keep bound against her back during the day.
Lucretia didn’t mind the racism overmuch. She was far too old to be bothered by the looks people gave her. It just tired her sometimes. Always, it came back to this. She wondered how much longer this charade would last.
A part of her worried she would grow old and die in this body before Randidly would notice that she had lived inside his world.
From her back stretched to protuberances of bone. It was clear that they were the frame that the leathery wings her mother possessed were built on, but there was no wing membrane. They were just thin limbs extending from her shoulder blades that ended in a sharp claw. Luckily, they were much easier to hide than her mother’s. They could be belted to her arms to hide most of it. What was worrisome, however, was that her wing bones continued to grow. Soon, they would be too long to hide behind her arms.
“You may sit.”
A sharp voice from the central figure at the table cut through Lucretia’s thoughts. With a small nod, she walked to the unadorned wooden chair in the middle of the room. She sat and faced the three.
The central figure was an older spriggit man. His hairy ears drooped as he studied her. On the right was a figure with a cloak pulled over his face to hide it in shadow. After giving up on discovering his identity, Lucretia’s focus drifted back to the central figure for a bit. To his left was a sharp-faced woman who Lucretia vaguely recognized. That got her attention.
Ah, it was the woman who had saw Lucretia fighting off the three thugs that lived in the kitchen. Her irritation spiked sharply up remembering it.
Not only did she need to endure the constant stares from Spriggits, ranging between pity and disgust, but most of those with visible monster blood made snide comments about how Massy and Creta were spineless shits. The comments weren’t so bad, but it made her mother upset.
It might be a fake body, but Lucretia had been cared for by Massy when she was effectively helpless in her own body. There was karma there.
It was an old joke the half-monster servants made sometimes that Spriggits dine on metal rather than meat. So when Massy was sick, and the kitchens sent down vegetable soup with a rusted gear in it…
Lucretia visited the kitchens. She tore off the left hand of the ten-year-old cretin who thought he was the descendant of the Hero because he had fangs and was well on her way to torturing the other two when this woman had walked into the room. Lucretia immediately bailed.
That had been almost a week ago. It did not bode well that they brought her here now. And yet, the room didn’t feel like a prison, or that she would be punished for it. No, if anything, this felt like…
…a job interview…
“You are probably wondering why you are here,” The central Spriggit began. His voice was nasally and cold. “We have been informed of your act of violence against the kitchen boys. We investigate such things seriously, especially considering your kind’s propensity towards violence. However, we were shocked to discover that aside from ripping the flesh of one of them, you kept your strikes in purely non-lethal places. It displayed… remarkable animal cunning.”
“Some might say dangerous tendencies,” The woman added darkly. Her gaze was the most hostile, but it was also measuring.
Well… Lucretia turned to the cloaked figure. Who knew how hostile that gaze would be.
…these three did realize that her body was only that of a five-year-old girl, correct…? Monster or not, she wasn’t yet at the age she would be working.
“…violence has its uses.” The man said smoothly. “Which is why you have been brought here. I would like to offer you an opportunity. If you accept it, both of your parents will be cared for. They will not need to work a day for the rest of their lives.”
That got Lucretia’s attention. Although Massy hadn’t realized it yet, she was pregnant again. Due to the morning sickness, her performance as a message runner was taking a nosedive. This stressed her out, which caused her to catch an entirely different kind of sickness. Lucretia had considered many ways to assist the family’s finances but was stuck at somewhat of an impasse.
After all, there were no Skills in the world.
There were magic and real, vocational skills. But there were no Levels. No Classes. No stats. Everything was hidden, although Lucretia suspected that there was some sort of numerical System underlying it all. But for all her age and experience, she still felt lost without any Skills to rely on. She… didn’t know what to do.
“What sort of work will I be required to do?” Lucretia asked. Although she was truly five, her monster blood made her body mature somewhat faster than Spriggits. To adults unfamiliar with her, she could pass as a short and skinny ten-year-old. Besides, playing dumb had never been Lucretia’s game.
“Creta, that is your name, yes? You would be a shadow.”
Lucretia turned and looked at the cloaked figure with raised eyebrows. It was somewhat surprising to her that the hidden figure was female if just based on her voice.
“What is a shadow?” Lucretia asked slowly.
“Cold and calculating,” The hostile eyed woman said sourly.
The older Spriggit man smiled. “And capable.” Then he turned back to Lucretia. “A shadow is a being tied to another, that takes care of the darkness so that the other can bask in the light.”
Something clicked in Lucretia’s mind. She had seen them before, those few monsters that were allowed into the Ministry. They were never alone. In fact, they were generally following just behind a Minister, their eyes scanning around. An aide, a bodyguard, a shadow.
“Okay,” Lucretia said with a nod. “When can I start?”
An opportunity would put her closer to those in power. In addition, Lucretia had no doubt that she would be trained in preparation for this assignment. Both would be helpful as she figured out how to grab Randidly’s attention. She needed capability and influence. Although she had some protective feelings towards her family, it wasn’t overly emotional; not being able to see them in the future wouldn’t be a crippling blow.
“Today. Follow me.” The cloaked figure said. Then she stood and went out the servant’s door. Lucretia followed. She wouldn’t see daylight for two years.
Honestly, Lucretia would perhaps not have seen daylight for longer except for two facts: First, she realized that although she didn’t have access to her own Status she could see, her connection to Randidly gave her access to
Skills. Almost innately, she had muscle memory and hyper-powerful intuition that couldn’t be explained any other way. Her Fighting Proficiency was so much that Granyulla, her trainer, was forced to admit Creta was the most talented youth she ever taught.
Granyulla was the woman in that room the first day and was also a White Hunter. Although rarely seen outside their land, it made sense to employ them as a martial instructor. It was just that Lucretia was practically cheating. Especially when she realized that striking with the bones of her wings could be used in conjunction with Talon Strike, in addition to using her hands.
So for two long years in the dark, Lucretia familiarized herself with her body and paid lip service to learning to read, do math, conduct business, understand law, and assist another fully in their role as monarch of a company.
She was ready because of the first reason. But she left because of the second reason.
The second reason was that a girl named Alta Bounty was born, and the Bounty family had paid for their daughter to have a shadow.